Sgt. Elor Azaria(C) arrives at the courtroom before the announcement of his verdict at Hakirya military court in Tel Aviv, Israel, Jan. 4, 2017. Israeli military court on Wednesday convicted Sgt. Elor Azaria of the manslaughter of a Palestinian who was laying wounded and motionless after trying to stab soldiers in the West Bank city of Hebron last March. (Xinhua/Miriam Alster-JINI)
JERUSALEM, Jan. 4 (Xinhua) -- Israeli military court on Wednesday convicted Sgt. Elor Azaria of the manslaughter of a Palestinian who was laying wounded and motionless after trying to stab soldiers in the West Bank city of Hebron last March.
A three-judge panel unanimously ruled that Azaria is guilty of shooting and unlawful killing of Abdel al-Fattah Yusri al-Sharif, 21, in the neighborhood of Tel Rumeida in Hebron on March 24.
"There was no reason for shooting the terrorist, certainly not at his head," the judges said.
Azaria was a 19-year-old army medic soldier at the time of the shooting.
According to the verdict, the incident took place after al-Sharif and another Palestinian, Ramzi Aziz al-Qasarwi, stabbed a soldier, wounding him lightly.
Troops opened fire at them, killing al-Qasarwi and seriously injuring Al-Sharif. Al-Sharif was laying on the ground, immobilized, for about 30 minutes, before Azaria approached him and shot to his head.
An autopsy proved this shot killed al-Sharif, the judges said.
Azaria argued for self-defense, claiming he shot al-Sharif because he feared the youth was carrying a bomb under his jacket.
After the shooting, a video footage of the incident surfaced on the internet and went viral, prompting a military police investigation into the case.
Under Israeli military law, the maximum punishment for manslaughter is 20 years in jail.
Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said the verdict was "difficult," but called on the public to respect the court's decision.
"Despite the difficult verdict, the defense establishment will do everything it can to assist the soldier and his family," he said.
The trial, which began in May, has deeply divided the Israeli society, with many Israelis hailing Azaria as a "hero." Lawmakers and ministers came to his defense, saying the army should stand by his soldiers even if they were wrong.
The incident occurred in a tensed time between Israelis and Palestinians, amidst a spate of violence in the West Bank and Israel. The violence has claimed the lives of at least 240 Palestinians and 34 Israelis since September 2015.
The court's ruling was a rare case of conviction of a soldier in a killing of a Palestinian person.
According to figures released by Human Rights Watch on Wednesday, since October 2015, there have been at least 150 instances in which Israeli security forces have fatally shot Palestinians suspected of carrying out attacks.